*Insert Bad Haircut Joke Here* The String of Pearls (1846) and Sweeney Todd (2007)

This week we looked at the story of Sweeney Todd as he moves from the monstrous, immoral demon of Fleet Street to tragic serial killer hellbent on revenge.

We don’t like Sweeney Todd in any of his incarnations, but it is a damn good story.

Brent watched the 2007 Tim Burton Movie and the 1979 stage show

I read the novel version of the 1846-1847 serialised Penny Dreadful titled The String of Pearls or Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (authorship contested).

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The story is not the sad tale of the tragic and violent figure of Sweeny Todd. It begins really with the story of Lieutenant Thornhill who is bringing the Titular string of pearls to the fiance of shipmate he believes to be dead. His mission to deliver the pearls entrusted to him by Mark Ingestrie to his sweetheart Joanna Oakley is rudely interrupted when he decides to go for a shave as soon as he arrives in London and has the misfortune to choose Sweeny Todd as his barber. Something happens, we don’t quite know what and Thornhill is gone. Thornhill, however, did not arrive in England alone and his faithful dog remains to wait at the barber’s door bitterly mourning his owner. This does not go unnoticed. And one of the more unfortunate souls who are at the heart of this mystery is a little guy called Tobias. He is a young boy who Todd has taken on as his apprentice. Todd beats the boy when he gets out of line or questions the increasing number of men disappearing from the shop to the point at which Tobias ends up a shivering crying wreck in the corner. When Tobias goes to inform authorities Todd has him sent to an asylum, where it is implied that he is not the first of todd’s apprentices to enter the facility if we can even call it that. A large portion of the narrative is devoted to heavily implying, in fact, they come out and say explicitly at one point that they aren’t so much treating or confining people as actively killing them off.

Meanwhile, Thornhill’s disappearance is noticed by his friends Colonel Jeffrey, who not only begins to investigate the disappearance, he also takes it upon himself to get the message of her sweetheart Mark Ingestrie’s death to Joanna Oakley. Joanna is upset obviously but doesn’t believe that Mark Ingetsrie is actually dead because Colonel Jeffery had never met him and was just conferring the information from Thornhill. Joanna begins to believe that the missing Thornhill is actually Jeffery in disguise. She also begins to investigate his disappearance. Her mother is also a religious zealot who is in the thrall of this cultish reverend who believes that he is the chosen one and Joanna is his chosen bride, which ends up resulting in her father and his beefeater cousin turning the reverend out of the house. Her mother then poisons her father and the cousin, survivable poisoning, but there is a bunch of full-blown misogyny in here as well like the cousin telling the story of how he will never marry because even women who seem sweet and supplicant to the whims of men have their own self-determination (that is not his words, he are grosser). At some stage, Joanna decides that her best course of action to dress as a boy and enter into an apprenticeship with Todd, who is, as luck would have it in need of a new apprentice because the last one went mad don’t cha know.

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The Monstrosity of Orchids – Floral Arrangments in Dorian Gray

This is the last Dorian Gray post for a while for The FrankenPod I swear!

If you have read the 1891 book or even watched the first season of Penny Dreadful you will be asking… Hey Dorian what’s with all the weird flower sniffing?

In his gothic masterpiece The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde is pretty blatant in his symbolism, he basically hits us over the head with a laburnum branch (symbolic of forsaken, pensive beauty apparently). That doesn’t mean that the symbolism is worthless by virtue of its visibility. There is something charming in Wilde’s insistence that we acknowledge the collective symbolic weight of flowers. It is what makes Wilde easy for students to dissect for meaning and also what upsets those who like their literary motifs and themes more artfully hidden.

So what is with all the flowers?

The flowers can be read as a representation of sensory temptation as in this passage from the very first meeting between Dorian and Lord Henry:

“Lord Henry went out to the garden and found Dorian Gray burying his face in the great cool lilac-blossoms, feverishly drinking in their perfume as if it had been wine. He came close to him and put his hand upon his shoulder. “You are quite right to do that,” he murmured. “Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul.”

Lord Henry is using Dorian’s little sensory indulgences as a gateway to more lascivious behaviour. Henry is the ultimate voyeur, his corruption of Dorian Gray is purely experimental, creating a spectacle to observe. Is it possible Lord Henry is a sociopath?

Henry also uses flowers to open the door to paranoia, fear of the passing of time and the advent of old age. Flowers are temporary and wilt and wither like youth. But flowers renew seasonally Dorian will not.

“The common hill-flowers wither, but they blossom again. The laburnum will be as yellow next June as it is now. In a month there will be purple stars on the clematis, and year after year the green night of its leaves will hold its purple stars. But we never get back our youth. The pulse of joy that beats in us at twenty, becomes sluggish. Our limbs fail, our senses rot. We degenerate into hideous puppets, haunted by the memory of the passions of which we were too much afraid, and the exquisite temptations that we had not the courage to yield to. Youth! Youth! There is absolutely nothing in the world but youth!”

This passage of Lord Henry’s evangelism is followed by an important visual representation of Dorian’s naivety surrounding the rapid loss of youth in which he drops “a spray of lilacs” (lilacs being symbolic of purity and innocence) discarding the first protective layer of his innocence. Then there is a weird bit of action with a bee and a flower that some read to be sexual, and it is a bit weird but I think it might have to do with pollination and the beginning of Lord Henry’s corruption of Dorian. But what do I know?

On the subject of Lord Henry’s manipulation here is a weird flower laden passage in which creepy Henry is creepy.

“Lord Henry watched him with a subtle sense of pleasure. How different he was now from the shy, frightened boy he had met in Basil Hallward’s studio! His nature had developed like a flower, had borne blossoms of scarlet flame.”

Basil, however, establishes the flower as Symbolic of the soul very early on in the novel as he describes his relationship with Dorian:

“Then I feel, Harry, that I have given away my whole soul to someone who treats it as if it were a flower to put in his coat, a bit of decoration to charm his vanity, an ornament for a summer’s day”

In the final confrontation between Dorian and Basil, Dorian crushes a flower which could signify Basil’s soul or Dorian’s innocence or both as he is about to murder his friend who was completely besotted with him from the outset. Later as Dorian has resolved to murder his friend he crushes the flower which could be a stand-in for Basil’s soul as alluded to previously. Or it could be Dorian crushing his last semblance of innocence or humanity:

“Years ago, when I was a boy,” said Dorian Gray, crushing the flower in his hand, “you met me, flattered me, and taught me to be vain of my good looks. One day you introduced me to a friend of yours, who explained to me the wonder of youth, and you finished the portrait of me that revealed to me the wonder of beauty. In a mad moment, that, even now, I don’t know whether I regret or not, I made a wish, perhaps you would call it a prayer….

Flowers as Symbolic of Innocence and Virginity

The flowers can also be interpreted as a symbol of innocence with the three key players, Basil, Dorian and Lord Henry practically engulfed by flowers as the story opens, perhaps signifying the innocence that would gradually disappear as we go deeper into Dorian’s downward spiral. 

There is also a great deal of floral imagery surrounding the innocent Sybil, with Sybil being explicitly likened to a flower;

A low moan broke from her, and she flung herself at his feet, and lay there like a trampled flower. “Dorian, Dorian, don’t leave me!” she whispered. “I am so sorry I didn’t act well. I was thinking of you all the time. But I will try—indeed, I will try.

Particular features of Sybil are also referred to in floral terms such as her lips being like petals. However late we find that not all flowers can be considered innocent and pure, there is one flower that is given monstrous connotations.

The Monstrosity of Orchids

Orchids are traditionally symbolic of beauty, luxury and love, they also have associations with sexuality, virility and lust depending on the colour. The potential of orchids to represent qualities of than innocence depending on their colour becomes apparent during the corruption of Dorian as he reads the Yellow Book that was given to him by Lord Henry:

There were in it metaphors as monstrous as orchids and as subtle in colour

The orchid as a monstrosity and the relevance of its colour is relevant when we consider this interchange between Dorian and Francis after the death of Basil:

“Yes,” said Dorian. “And I am afraid, Francis, that I have another errand for you. What is the name of the man at Richmond who supplies Selby with orchids?”

“Harden, sir.”

“Yes—Harden. You must go down to Richmond at once, see Harden personally, and tell him to send twice as many orchids as I ordered, and to have as few white ones as possible. In fact, I don’t want any white ones. It is a lovely day, Francis, and Richmond is a very pretty place, otherwise I wouldn’t bother you about it.”

The absence or removal of white orchids (traditionally symbolic of innocence)  is perhaps symbolic of the removal of the last of Dorian’s humanity, now he only wants what is seen as dark and monstrous.

Bye Bye Dorian, you selfish pain in the butt.

Go sniff flowers elsewhere!

Sincerely

Morgan